Remember how excited you were for a full season of Todd Gurley, one of the few running backs in the NFL with the necessary combination of youth, ability, and a team with no pesky passing game, to emerge as one of the NFL’s last true feature backs? Well, the goddamn Rams don’t want you to have nice things.
Gurley ran for 33 yards on 19 carries against the Cardinals on Sunday, bringing his season total to 216 yards on 82 carries. He’s averaging 2.8 yards per rush, and his longest run of the season went for 16 yards. Going by DVOA, Gurley ranks as one of they very worst running backs in the league.
It’s unlikely that Gurley simply forgot, between the end of last season and the start of this one, how to find and run through a hole, so his struggles must owe something to factors beyond his control. Logically, you’d wonder if defenses unafraid of Case Keenum are keying on Gurley with eight- and nine-man defensive fronts. Not quite:
Gurley’s getting the same treatment from defensive coordinators that Ezekiel Elliot and Isaiah Crowell are, but that hasn’t stopped either of them from steamrolling defenses. The problem Gurley is facing seems to be much more basic, and thus much more worrying: the Rams just can’t block for shit.
Watching Gurley try to find open space is one of the more depressing experiences the NFL currently has to offer. It’s almost easier to count the number of times he is met by a lineman in the backfield than it is plays on which he’s given room to operate. This is the shit he’s been dealing with through the first four weeks:
Gurley’s just taken the handoff, and he already has to face two linemen who have pushed their way behind the line of scrimmage.
Here’s the Buccaneers’ line getting straight into the backfield and blowing up a run on first and 10:
And this is mostly what he saw against the Seahawks in Week 2:
These are a few cherry-picked examples, but the numbers aren’t any kinder to the Rams’ offensive line. Through Week 3, the unit ranked as one of the worst run-blocking lines in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders, the Rams’ offensive line allowed 19 percent of its team’s rushing attempts to be stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage, and only allowed Gurley and the other backs to earn 0.82 second-level yards (yards gained between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage) per carry. With yesterday’s dismal performance, those numbers are only going to get worse.
The Rams can certainly make adjustments to their scheme, but nothing they do is going to make much of a difference if the offensive line simply can’t block anyone. Gurley did manage to catch five balls for 49 yards yesterday, and spoke in the preseason about wanting to be more involved in the passing game. Maybe that’s a good way to get him useful touches, but a 1,500-yard rushing season seems like a real long shot at this point.